Many movies may aspire to cult status, but only a few can slither right in and stake an unquestionable claim. The 1973 French/Czechoslovakian animated film Fantastic Planet, thankfully, is absolutely one of the latter. A Grand Prix winner at Cannes (and originally brought to American theaters by legendary king of schlock Roger Corman), its combination of seriously trippy illustrations and groovy jazz-porny musical score creates a stunning, vividly potent sensation. Once it hits your brain, it’s there to stay.
Adapting a heavily allegorical novel by Stefan Wul, the story posits a far-out world of the future where naked humans known as Oms are either kept as pets or systematically exterminated by the giant blue fish-type creatures called Draags. After a young male Om escapes captivity with a Draag learning machine, the damndest rebellion imaginable is hatched. There’s a bit more, but any attempt at summarizing the plot feels inadequate, really, when compared to the sheer visual thrum on constant display.
The scallop-eared, crimson-eyed Draags are striking enough to behold, but the level of invention only starts there: Virtually every shot has something newly great and terrible to gawk at, often never to be glimpsed again. (Personal favorite: That completely horrid, chortling turnip/elephant thing.) The striking cutout animation style may share some similarities with the earlier Yellow Submarine, but the mind-croggling vibe is uniquely its own.
Loopy as Fantastic Planet’s imagery gets, though, director René Laloux and his team nevertheless maintain an interior logic that somehow keeps everything of a piece. The end result is that rarest kind of fantasy film: One that blessedly never pauses to explain or apologize for its bizarre flights of fancy. Yes, the Om Chief is wearing what appears to be a pregnant one-eyed squid on his head, and what of it?
Fantastic Planet plays at the Grand Illusion on August 20 and 25.